Essay: A Time to Move

Jun 26, 2017

There are some people who are always on the move - never staying in one place or one city for very long.  But for many others, a single place - often a single house - holds tremendous significance:

In Ecclesiastes 3 we are told there is a time for everything; a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to tear down and a time to build; a time to speak and a time to be silent, and among others, a time to be born and a time to die. What the good book didn’t mention is a time to move, which has been happening in our neighborhood lately with some frequency.

You see, we live in a condo development of mostly retired folks and lately quite a number, three in our little corner for example, have moved to assisted living, nursing homes or that ultimate destination awaiting us all.

While walking the dog, I’ve watched as their middle age sons and daughters prepared their parents’ condos for sale. But wasn’t there a time years before the condo when their parents left the family home and also left behind a lifetime of memories?

Let’s switch gears – back to 1993 when I helped Mom prepare our family home for sale. Seeing my boyhood home sell made quite an impression, so much so that I did a commentary about it on Wichita’s NPR station, which was later picked up by several newspapers.

Let me share it with you. If you have already been there, it will bring back memories. If you haven’t had the experience, it is likely waiting for you, probably unexpected and maybe sooner than you think. Here is that commentary from a quarter century ago.

From a distance, the neighborhood looks the same as always. But as I round the corner of 31st Avenue, I can see the Realtor’s sign in the front yard with a “Sold” sticker plastered across the yellow background. It announces to all the world that this house, my parents’ home of 41 years, the place where I grew up, will soon no longer be the Spangler house up the hill on Pershing Boulevard.

In a week it will be somebody else’s, foreclosing for me forever the chance to relive my childhood by returning to that place. I’ll never again watch squirrels eat ear corn from the feeder Dad built or nap on the hammock in the backyard on lazy summer afternoons.

The house sold fast. Dad always said it would. And here I am, a little more than a month after Mom moved to a retirement home, spending my last few hours at the family homestead in my hometown of Clinton, Iowa. It all has happened so fast. I didn’t think it would bother me too much, but as I walk up the steps to the front porch, I know it will. The house looks so strange empty. I’ve never seen it that way before, except the time Mr. Kuhns papered the living and dining rooms.

I look out the kitchen back window. I’m disappointed. No squirrels. But I see the outline on the lawn of where the garden used to be. I remember the apple tree and how I kissed my first girl under it. We were in the third grade I think. The apple tree and the girl, both long gone.

Next is my bedroom, empty of furniture, but full of memories. They flood over me and I stand in the doorway a few minutes to sort them out. I remember getting dressed before the full-length mirror on my wedding day, and as a youngster reading Field and Stream magazines and dreaming about big-game hunting and fishing Rocky Mountain trout streams. I’ve now done both, and the dreaming was better. But mostly I remember being a small boy and wondering what I’d become and where I’d live and what I’d do. And now, decades later, I pretty much know the answers. Knowing is not anything like wondering.

Melancholy stays with me. Dad has been gone for two years, but everywhere I look I see his face. Young and vibrant, not old and sick. I see him as he patiently paints the inside of the colonnades and I see him again winding the pendulum clock as he did every Saturday night. We’re keeping the clock.

By now it’s dark. I shut off the porch light and see lightning bugs flash in the school yard across the street. I have a flashback. It’s 1958. Dad and Mom and I are on the front porch. Mom is sewing one of her braided rugs for which she is famous, along with her potato salad, hold the onions, and Dad and I are listening to Hank Dillman do the play-by-play for the Clinton baseball team on KROS radio. He’s eating a cucumber sandwich. I never could stand them. Heat lightning dances across the western sky and a welcome breeze from the north cools us.

The spell is broken. Two shafts of white light cross the front lawn. A car swings into the driveway. It’s my wife, back from visiting her mother.

Tomorrow we’ll load up the car and drive back to our then home in Kansas. The house will sit empty for a few days and then a new family will move in. My time with that house will be over. But it really doesn’t matter who owns that house because there will be other summer nights for me wherever I happen to be. On those nights I’ll remember 1958. Dad and Mom and I will be on the front porch. The radio will be on, and there will be heat lightning, and a north breeze whistling through the screens, a cucumber sandwich and fireflies.

And I’ll remember.

Lake Effect essayist Jim Spangler is a retired newspaperman who now lives in Brookfield.